Gerhardt Receives Thomas Jefferson Award

Michael Gerhardt specializes in constitutional conflicts and has written five books, including The Power of Precedent. (Photo: Steve Exum)

Michael Gerhardt, the Burton Craige Distinguished Professor of jurisprudence in the School of Law, has received the 2023 Thomas Jefferson Award.

Created in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation, the award honors a UNC faculty member who has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson through personal influence and performance in teaching, writing and scholarship. The Jeffersonian ideals include democracy, public service and the pursuit of knowledge.

Gerhardt received the award at the January Faculty Council meeting and was nominated by William “Bill” Marshall, the William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of law.

“Professor Gerhardt has devoted his career to the study and the service of the democratic ideals that motivated Thomas Jefferson,” Marshall said in his citation. “His accomplishments as a scholar and as a participant at the highest levels of government actively shaping those ideals have been extraordinary.”

Gerhardt joined the faculty in 2005. His teaching and research focus on constitutional conflicts between presidents and Congress. He’s the author of 10 books, including his latest, The Law of Presidential Impeachment: A Guide for the Engaged Citizen. His book, The Forgotten Presidents, was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2013 by The Financial Times.

Gerhardt was one of four constitutional scholars called by the House Judiciary Committee in 2020 to testify during the first impeachment hearings of former President Donald Trump. He has also appeared as the only joint witness in the House of Representatives’ impeachment proceedings against former President Bill Clinton, and he served in Trump’s second impeachment trial as special counsel to the presiding officer, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. Gerhardt also was as an impeachment expert for CNN, Fox and MSNBC during Trump’s second impeachment trial.

During the faculty council meeting, Gerhardt thanked Marshall for his acknowledgment, adding, “I believe that all those things I’ve done, kindly described by Bill, make me a better teacher, scholar and ultimately citizen.”

Gerhardt recognized the importance of Jeffersonian ideals and explained how he believes Jefferson’s contributions to the law should guide and inspire universities.

“You will not find a better place for having meaningful civil dialogue about the most important controversial issues we will ever confront,” Gerhardt said about the University. “That is what we do here. … We believe that teaching about those things and teaching about the complexity of those things across the wide range of [The] University of North Carolina is the best thing we can do to make America, and this region and the people of our state better.”

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